Where fine wine and flappers collide
On Tuesday morning February 3rd 1931, Gordon Amner was in the paddock of the Napier farm he worked on. He was 16 years old and in charge while his boss was on holiday. Suddenly the animals started going berserk and within moments the earth shook so violently the water tanks came toppling down.
“There was a terrific roar, the ground was shaking. You couldn’t stand up,” he recalled as an old man just a few years ago, before he passed away. “Cattle were rolling down the hills. The boulders were coming down. I thought it was the end of the world.”
He got to the top of the farm thinking there might be a tidal wave but instead saw the sea retreat leaving rocks uncovered where he used to go sailing. Fish of every kind were flapping on the ground.
Forty square kilometres of land was thrust out of the sea in Ahuriri that day, rising over two metres…like a scene out of a biblical re-enactment. Napier Airport now sits on this land reclaimed by the forces of nature.
After an agonising two and a half minutes shaking, that seemed to last forever, he saw smoke billowing from Napier City as the 7.8 magnitude quake shook Hawke’s Bay to the core.
“Napier has been wiped off the map,” shouted the Dominion Post, as nearly all the buildings in Napier and nearby Hastings were flattened.
The nursing home on Napier Hill collapsed killing half the staff sleeping after night shift. Department store roofs fell in. Fires broke out but the water mains were destroyed and as the wind came up, many people who didn’t die in the crumbled buildings lost their lives in the fires. The death toll was 256 and the Napier earthquake remains New Zealand’s worst natural disaster.
But out of the ashes and the aftershocks, the people of the city began to rebuild. The sound of machinery over the next two to three years became the sound of hope.
The four architect firms in Napier banded together sharing premises to draw up the new city. Favouring the era’s fashionable art deco, Spanish mission and Frank Lloyd Wright designs, in three years Napier was the newest and most modern city on the globe.
Images of lightning flashes, speed lines, zig-zags and sun rays were etched into walls and pressed into the underside of the metal awnings lining the streets. Lead light glazing was used on the windows and mosaic tiled street names set into the footpath on each street corner.
Neon lighting was an exciting addition to the 1930’s night and the original neon lights are still used in the Municipal Theatre today. Even the carpet, replaced due to wear, has been re-woven to the original design.
For the past 25 years, the iconic annual Tremains Art Deco Weekend held each February sees the city aflutter with feather boas, bowler hats and jazz music. Sleek vintage cars roll into town and elegantly attired ladies and snappily dressed gents spill onto Napier’s 21st century streets.
There are more than 200 events attracting 40,000 people who come from all over the world dressed to the nines in foxtrot and flapper outfits to celebrate the architecture and style that emerged like a phoenix out of the ruins of the 1931 earthquake.